Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Blog Round-Up

January can be a quiet month, but for me there's been quite a bit going on. As well as reeling from the news that Alvar has won a Discovering Diamonds Special Award, and a Chill with a Book Readers' Award, I'm busy working on my contribution to In Bed with the British, which will be published by Pen & Sword books later on this year. But I shall still be blogging.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and indoor

My aim for this year is to post four or five times a month. These posts will comprise:~

  • A Review/Interview
  • Some midweek musings about writing, generally
  • A guest post where an author writes about music
  • A 'Right to Reply'  - where three authors tell me, and each other, about aspects of their chosen period of history
  • And an extra post, like this one, or an interview, when there are five weeks in the month

As well as being part of the Editorial Team for EHFA - and please get in touch if you would like to write for us - I have two other sites:

My Time Traveller blog is where you'll find my ramblings about my ramblings. These posts go out monthly. Ish.

My Lighting Up the Dark Ages site is more like a website, but there you'll find the occasional blog post about history, and all the latest news about my books.

Since I'm talking about other blogs, please let me direct you to another page on this one, where you will find lots of other really good blogs.

We also have a dedicated blog for 1066 Turned Upside Down

and you can find me on Twitter
and Facebook

Look out for February blogs, which will include a rather lively 'Dark Ages Right to Reply', a review of a great new book, the second in the 'Writing to Music' series, an interview with Janet Wertman, author of Jane the Quene, and over on the Time Traveller blog, we're deep in historical Wales...

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Right to Reply - The Tudors

This year I am launching a series of what I hope will be monthly posts, where three authors will give me their opinions on a particular era. Some will be quite 'civilised' whereas a future debate about the 'Dark Ages' promises to be a riot of 'flyting' (boasting in the Mead Hall!) Sometimes the authors will agree, sometimes not. But all are experts on their particular period, so all opinions are valid. First up, authors Gayle Hulme, Deb Hunter (who writes as Hunter Jones) and Judith Arnopp have their discussion about the Tudor age:

The first question I put to them all was:
Who is the greatest figure from Tudor history, and why?

Gayle: My favourite Tudor is Anne Boleyn.  She was able to hold to her principals and refused to become Henry’s mistress.  However when marriage was finally offered she used every ounce of her considerable charm, courage and wit to get the process over the line.  Although she was a very able and educated woman for her time, she had her vulnerabilities as all humans do.  On one hand she would react furiously when under threat or attack, but was also a woman with devout christian faith and charity.

Deb: That is such a fantastic question! Honestly, I don’t know how they are measured historically, and the answer may vary according to the person you ask. The era was filled with so much drama, and intrigue, you have a wealth of characters to choose from. 
Henry VIII is larger than life ( really bad pun? ) and his love affair with Anne Boleyn still captivates us. I agree with Gayle, but for me, the main character is Elizabeth I. She overcame so many obstacles yet became the English Monarch that sets the standards for the British Crown even today. The advances in arts, science and warfare during her reign opened the doors for our modern world. 

Judith: I agree with Deb that the achievements of Elizabeth I probably entitle her to the label of The Greatest Tudor, but I’d like to say a few words in defence of her father, Henry VIII. On his death, Henry left an unfinished canvas for his successors to complete. Without her father, Elizabeth would never have been ‘great.’ Henry is the king of England everyone remembers; he is the monarch that sparks the interest of school children and launches them into further study. Most people on the street can easily identify him from his portraits. His instantly recognisable image keeps history alive.

Henry was so much more than the caricature butcher king we are all familiar with. In his early years he was athletic, intelligent, and creative. He had a vast interest in the world around him, from politics to the arts. One of my favourite stories is of a New Year’s gift he received from the Archdeacon of Rochester; of a map of England, the ‘Angliae Figura'. The Lord High Admiral noted that Henry had become ‘marvellously inflamed’ by it, and I can just imagine the king bending over it, stabbing it with his stubby forefinger as he excitedly pointed out small details. 

Recorded instances like this illustrate that he wasn’t just ‘evil’ as he is so often described; he was humanly flawed, horribly disappointed with himself for his failure to provide more than one male heir.  Henry made huge improvements to the navy; he allowed the bible to be translated into English, and he was a huge patron of the arts. I think it is a shame that his good points are so often overlooked. Yes; he treated his wives abominably, even for the period. Yes; many wonderful abbeys and churches were destroyed in his name but who among us would want to be remembered only for their darkest hour? 
To understand Henry, one has to understand the age he lived in, his childhood experiences; he was flawed, he was sometimes ruthless, he was human. Historians and psychologists will never resolve the enigma of Henry’s deterioration from a golden Renaissance prince into a vindictive despot, and so he will continue to enthral us and to dominate historical debate, possibly forever.

The second question was:
If you could change one event/incident - which would be the most urgently in need of change, and why?

Gayle: If I could change one event it would be the stillbirth at Hampton Court that Anne experienced in July/August 1534.  Anne’s future looked bright at that point.  She had married the King, had a glittering coronation, given birth to Elizabeth, and although the sex of the child was a disappointment, both mother and child had survived and Anne had quickly conceived again.  I believe this incident was the first tiny pin prick in the bubble of Henry and Anne’s relationship.  It rocked and shattered their confidence that all they had done had been God’s will.

Deb: The world would be different if Henry VIII would’ve had a milder temperament. I wish he would’ve sent Anne Boleyn to a convent instead of murdering her. That is such a chilling, brutal moment in history. Again, I agree with Gayle’s answer, but, I have to look at the daughter of Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I. As a hopeless romantic, I really wish Elizabeth could’ve married Robert Dudley. Her mother didn’t get the happy ending we wanted her to have and neither did her daughter—at least in her love life. Although, Elizabeth did get the sweet taste of revenge by becoming Gloriana. 

Judith: I used to answer this question by opting to change the outcome of the Battle of Bosworth but if I altered that, I would not be able to write about the Tudors so I shall adjust my answer. I would erase the mystery of the Princes in the Tower; I’d have them grow up well-documented, in a safe, obscure part of Europe, happily disinterested in taking back the English throne. This would remove the vast number of cut-throat, pointless arguments I see on Facebook every day and call a halt to the continuing war of the roses.

And finally:
You're playing 'Top Trumps' - which is the best aspect of Tudor life, and why?

GayleI think it would be terms of the court and how Henry VIII managed to do such a great PR job on himself  He used his clothes, his sporting prowess and charm to create a glittering spectacle wherever he went.  It was this in the early days that inspiring loyalty and love.

Deb: Being American, I’m not certain what Top Trumps is (*giggle*) but the best part of Tudor life—if you were fortunate enough to be wealthy, which Henry VIII definitely was—has to be the clothes and gloves! He played the role of King and used all the theatrical techniques available to ensure that his Court and Realm knew he ruled by the Divine Right of Kings. Gayle is absolutely correct in saying that he set the stage early in his rule with his looks, his vigor and his finery. 
(Personally, I love the colors, rich velvets and damasks. Gloves are one of my favorite things, and the Tudor Era gloves are as swoon worthy as the apparel. It would be fabulous to dress in such fabulous, sumptuous attire!)  

Judith: It has to be the Renaissance. These days we are snowed under with images, ideas, and innovation, yet in the Tudor period everything was fresh, energetic and vibrant. The influx of new ideas from Europe included art, invention, philosophy, music, dancing and religion. The fifteen century saw the dawning of a new a world where the introduction of affordable printed books brought access to learning and new philosophy, offering fresh and radical ways of seeing the world. Who would not want to be part of that?

[Digital image of Anne Boleyn created for Hunter S Jones by Alexei Gural of Athens, GA.]
Images of Henry and Elizabeth Public Domain

Thank you so much, ladies, for a fascinating - and polite - discussion. I would love to know what other people think about this, so please do leave a comment below. Meanwhile, you can find out more about these authors:

Judith: Website

I'm also thrilled to announce that since we had our little chat, it has been confirmed that our book, In Bed with the British, will be released by Pen & Sword Books later on this year. It also includes contributions by Jessica Cale and Regina Jeffers and Samantha Wilcoxson.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Writing to Music - Jenetta James

A new series for 2017 ~ Every month I will be inviting an author to talk about writing to music. It might be music that has inspired them, music that helps them write, or a bit of both. I'm delighted to welcome, Jenetta James to kick off this new series. Over to Jenetta:~

"When I was 16 I was forced, entirely unwillingly into the school choir. Fortunately for my pride, it was large and non-auditioning. So the secret, that I could not sing, was safely under wraps. I made sure that it stayed there by singing very quietly and never being the last person to stop. At first, I was such a sceptic. Luckily, others were both more talented and more sporting. After a few sessions of singing scales and doing questionable exercises, we began to rehearse what would be that term’s concert; Faure’s Requiem. 

Almost immediately, a door opened that has never closed in my mind. I’m still a rubbish singer but I love choral music. I love the quiet power and delicate tension. I love how the sound can pick you up and bump you around, or almost take you to sleep. Here, for those who would like a listen, is a clip:

In Paradisum: Faure Requiem (Kings College, Cambridge)

Having a work of art to rehearse and practice for performance stopped being a chore and started being a joy. I also found myself doing my homework to it and reading to it. I had always previously worked in silence but now I seemed to have an unlikely backing track. 

In subsequent terms, I stayed in the choir. I didn’t have to after the first term and I still couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but I did bother to try. It had slipped under the covers of my life and way of thinking. 

In subsequent terms, the choir sang Handel’s Messiah, Vivaldi’s Gloria and Bach’s Magnificat. Each of them were like parallel worlds with their own elements. I sang right up untilI was doing my exams, and it was time to leave school for new things. Below, are a couple of my favourite moments here for listening ears:

I Know That My Redeemer Liveth (Handel) — Choir of New College, Oxford
GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO. Antonio Vivaldi. Director: Antonio Fauró 

This slightly eccentric backing track of ancient and religious music took me into adult life. Whenever I had to concentrate really hard, I had it on in the background. 

When you come to write, you have to somehow submerge yourself in the world of the story. Some writers probably find this easier than others, and some find it more necessary than others. Everyone has their strategies, and this is one of mine. 

In the last couple of years, I have published two novels, Suddenly Mrs. Darcy and The Elizabeth Papers. Both are Jane Austen inspired historical romance. I am now working on a mystery story. And, like many writers, I have that other “big novel” in the background. Actually it is a short novel aspiring to be big. It progresses at a rate of about 500 words a month and one day I hope it will speed up. All of my writing has historical elements and I am a bit of a history girl generally. 

I got started writing Suddenly Mrs. Darcy with my old stalwarts - some of which are mentioned above. Once the story was underway, I started listening to music which had some relevance to the story. Piano music, played in the home has quite a role, so I listened to plenty of that while I was plotting my scenes. Beethoven’s sonata’s were my favourites and I still shut my eyes and imagine swishing skirts and candlelit parties when I hear them now. 

I have experimented with listening to more modern music (which I listen to all the time in my “normal”/non-writing life), but somehow it doesn’t work. There is too much getting up and making a cup of tea or remembering that I haven’t put the bins out. Maybe if I ever write an entirely contemporary novel, I might branch out. I’ll keep an open mind. What I do know, is that music helps me engage with other, fictional worlds and that has helped me write stories. 

The process of editing a book I find is a different kettle of fish. I love editing but have not yet found a sound track for it. The wonderful Christina Boyd has edited both Suddenly Mrs. Darcy and The Elizabeth Papers. On both occasions, she has turned an uncompromising light on my romantic ramblings. It is about sifting and assessing and I find that it works better in silence. 

But for now, I am deep in writing, so here is an old favourite for those who wish to listen:

Agnus Dei - Samuel Barber

Thank you to Annie for allowing me to post in this series. I am very much looking forward to reading of other writers and their musical tales, and maybe listening to a few new things. "


Jenetta James is a mother, lawyer, writer, and taker-on of too much. She grew up in Cambridge and read history at Oxford University where she was a scholar and president of the Oxford University History Society. After graduating, she took to the law and now practises full time as a barrister. Over the years she has lived in France, Hungary and Trinidad as well as her native England. Jenetta currently lives in London with her husband and children where she enjoys reading, laughing and playing with Lego. She is the author of "Suddenly Mrs Darcy" and "The Elizabeth Papers”.
Find her on Facebook, on Twitter
Suddenly Mrs. Darcy The Elizabeth Papers

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Home - Where the Heart is?

Did you know that, in space, moss spirals? 

It doesn't not thrive, but it's not at its best. 

Not doing what it should.

It's not at home.

Home. It's literally a universal concept; it's the only one that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial knows. Who among us hasn't at one time or another put on a silly voice, held out a finger and said 'E.T. phone home'?

At the end of the Mad Max film, Beyond Thunderdome, the narrator talks about how the group of children "Started the haul for home," and explains why they keep the oral tradition - so important in history - alive. "We lights the city... for all of them that are still out there ... there'll come a night when they sees the distant light, and they'll be coming home."

So what is home?

“The home should be the treasure chest of living,” said Le Corbusier, but this was an architect's point of view. The concept of home has little to do with its contents; in literary terms this is not what makes a house a home. There are lots of homes in book titles: The Little House on the Prairie, The Mill on the Floss,  while some fictional houses are memorable by name - Pemberley, Manderley (but these are settings, and whilst important, are not necessarily yearned for.)

Be it a house, a village, or just something loosely described as a homeland, it calls us. And the yearning to return to it is a powerful theme in literature. Although not central to the story, in The Lord of the Rings, the little hobbits dream of home; they remember the Shire with longing as they journey ever further away from it, and from what they know.

Languages all over the world have words for this feeling. In Japanese - 故郷を慕う (kokyō o shitau) means to pine for home.

They also have 離郷 (rikyō) which means to separate from one's hometown. It doesn't have an English equivalent and yet we can understand the sentiment, immediately.

The Welsh have hiraeth. It's a longing for one's homeland, but it's not mere homesickness. It's an expression of the bond one feels with one's home country.

In Portuguese, saudade is 'a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves.'

And of course, with homesickness, the longing, invariably, is not simply for the place, but for the people there, too. As a bullied child at boarding school, my homesickness was as much about longing to go back to a place which offered unconditional love, as it was about missing my creature comforts.

The urge to return home is perhaps nowhere stronger than in the book, based incredibly on a true story, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington, where three young Aboriginal* girls defy odds and the authorities to work their way home across nearly 1000 miles of Australian outback, using the aforementioned fence as a navigational aid.

The Rabbit-proof Fence 2005 - by Roguengineer under CC Licence

Yes, this was a true story, but a great deal of dramatic tension can be created in a novel by taking the character out of their natural environment.

The 'New kid in Town' can upset the equilibrium, as Vianne does in Chocolat, by Joanne Harris, when she arrives in the French village of  Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and scandalises the village and disturbs its occupants, for better or worse, or maybe they feel out of place, like the moss in space: Leo, in The Go-Between, is very uncomfortable in his new world - literally, since he has only a thick woollen suit to wear as the Norfolk summer temperature rises and rises. Not only has he been removed from his home, he has been transplanted to the world of another social class. He does not know how to act. More significantly, he is a child thrust into the world of adults, with disastrous consequences not only for him, but for them.

'Fair Use' Image

I subconsciously made use of this theme in my own novels. I didn't set out to do it, because the outline of an historical novel is, by definition, already in place, and yet I've recently realised that the theme is there in both of my novels and my short story. 

In To Be A Queen, a huge part of Aethelflaed's struggles hinge upon the fact that she is a 'foreigner', in a country she knew as a small child but yet is unfamiliar to her as an adult. She is not, initially, accepted and she reacts defensively, closing her mind to the possibility that these foreigners might be either as civilised, or indeed as brutalised, as her own countrymen have been. Much of the drama unfolds as the two 'sides' learn, gradually, to understand one another.

Surely there was nothing about this in my second novel? It's a fairly straightforward tale of love, lust, and politics. But, here again, is a character who is taken out of the world he knows; in this case, Alvar the fighting man, the local lord, finds that he has to contend with the deadlier arena of the royal court. If he knew the phrase 'fish out of water', I think he would readily have applied it to himself.

Now, I can see that I understood completely what each of these characters must have been feeling and that's why the theme permeated the books.

Is it because I was so frequently a 'new kid' myself that this aspect of their stories resonated with me, or is it, as I said, a universal condition, the sense of alienation which we all will feel when taken away from our cultural, spiritual or physical home? 

Even in my short story for 1066 Turned Upside Down, not only are the English, naturally enough, fending off the invaders who threaten their country, but my central characters, Edwin and Morcar, are also fighting for their homeland, and for their rights. 

I'm not 'from' anywhere. I'm a forces brat, and I have a sense of rootlessness that makes my story very hard to tell. The word 'belong' is a strong one. We humans need to be able to feel it as a truth. What happens when we are removed from home, and the quest to return to that place where we belong, makes for powerful drama.


(If you want to know what the moss in space looks like - click on the link. I couldn't contact anyone to gain permission to use the image, but I can direct you to it. Take a look; it's the oddest thing  - NASA - Fire Moss)

*I did a bit of research into whether or not the term 'aboriginal' was acceptable. This issue is complicated (my thanks to Prue Batten for her insights) but on balance it would appear that the word is largely acceptable, so I have risked using it. I hope not to have caused any offence by so doing.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Review/Interview - Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: Samantha Wilcoxson

Hello and Happy New Year to all. Throughout 2017, I plan to post a monthly review/interview and January's featured novel is Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen.

Samantha Wilcoxson is a first generation American with British roots. She is passionate about reading, writing, and history, especially the Plantagenet and Tudor dynasties. Her novel, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York has been recognised as a Historical Novel Society Editor's Choice. The Plantagenet Embers series continues with Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole and will conclude with Queen of Martyrs: The Story of Mary I in 2017.

Samantha has also published two middle grade novels, No Such Thing as Perfect and Over the Deep: A Titanic Adventure.

When not reading or writing, Samantha enjoys traveling and spending time at the lake with her husband and three children. You can connect with Samantha on her blog, Twitter, Goodreads, Booklikes, and Amazon.

There are two things I must say straight away: the first is that I know Samantha's writing through her blog, and through her contributions to EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors) and I know that her research, and her deep knowledge of the period, are excellent. I don't need to question the 'historical' content because I know it to be sound. Thus, without giving away any spoilers, I can assert that any suppositions she makes are grounded firmly in historical certainties, and the novelist is always at liberty to fill in gaps, if done plausibly. 

Secondly, I have to say that what drew me very strongly to this book was its novelty factor, the very subject matter itself. They must be out there, but I am not aware of any books about this period which concentrate on that somewhat shadowy figure Elizabeth of York, whom I have always been taught was the woman who brought the warring factions together, who legitimised the claims of the Yorkists and the Lancastrians. Beyond that, I didn't know much about her and now I feel that I do.

In this book, inevitably, we begin with the latter stages of the Wars of the Roses, but the author very quickly, and sensibly, moves on. She gives us just enough background information, without going over ground which is extremely well-trodden already. Briskly, she scoops us into Elizabeth's life, and tells the story very much from her point of view, and as such, she is a refreshing witness to events which can sometimes feel over-familiar. I was intrigued to know what Elizabeth might have thought about her role as 'peace-weaver'.

There are many references to God, and I found that refreshing, too. Often, novelists forget how strong was the faith of those living through such times, how central to their lives their religion was. The harsh realities of life at this time are also pointed out and we as readers are not shielded from this, nor should we be.

I particularly liked the way the author gives a version of events which I had never thought of and yet, when considered, seem obvious: the fact that Elizabeth sees Plantagenet features in her daughter, and in her son, the future Henry VIII; that her son Arthur behaves like one born to be king, in a way that Henry VII doesn't. And, most telling of all, that the pretender Perkin Warbeck would have threatened her own son's claims to the throne. I enjoyed the theory about what made Warbeck so convincing - the idea that his success, as far as it went, owed as much to his personal qualities as his bloodline. This idea clearly comes from an author who has studied what happened and thought about the possible realities, based on human nature.

There are not many secondary characters, but the author I think is deliberately keeping her cast small, never losing sight of the story she is telling, and really trying to hold Elizabeth of York under a microscope. It is easy, perhaps, to forget that Elizabeth lived on after her marriage, the point at which the focus usually shifts completely to the Tudors.

I struggled a little with the 'Americanisms' from time to time, but it is neither the author's fault nor mine that we hail from different sides of the Atlantic.

Ultimately for me, reviewing a book boils down to two things. Did it start well enough for me to continue reading, and did it end well enough for me to recommend it to others? Happily, I can answer yes to both these questions!

After reading the book, I put a couple of questions to Samantha:

How did the idea for the book come about: what was it that drew you to tell Elizabeth's story?
SW: I had decided that I was ready to take on historical fiction, not just something for younger readers but the kind of book that I would want to read. When I thought about the era that I knew the most about, the Wars of the Roses, I knew that I would have to be creative if I were going to do something that would be unique. It struck me that Elizabeth of York had connections to all the key players but few writers ever focused on her. As soon as she came into my mind, the story started writing itself. I had great appreciation for this woman who devoted herself to peace and raising her family rather than fighting for her own power. Strong women like Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret of Anjou tend to be popular figures, but I was drawn to Elizabeth of York's quiet strength. 

Once readers have enjoyed this, what can they expect from the next book?

SW: Faithful Traitor picks up where Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen ends, with Margaret Pole receiving the news of her cousin's death. Margaret shares Elizabeth's royal bloodline but has an entirely different challenge as she raises her children under the new regime. The focus of this book is not on Henry VIII and his marital scandals, but upon Margaret's family and their difficulties in being recognized for their royal status without appearing as though they are reaching for the crown. Margaret is a mother first, but she is not as submissive as Elizabeth and she loses her husband at a relatively young age, so she is forging their future on her own. When Henry VIII becomes king, he raises up the Pole family since he is confident in his own power and does not feel threatened as his father did. It is not until too many years go by without the birth of a son that Margaret's family comes under suspicion once again with devastating effect. Margaret's story is a look at familiar events from a unique point of view.

The final book of the trilogy, Queen of Martyrs, is due out in spring 2017. It will carry on with Queen Mary's story, including her attempt at counter-reformation with the help of Margaret's son, Cardinal Reginald Pole.

Coming in 2017

Universal Links:
Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen
Faithful Traitor

Find Samantha on her Blog